Guinness Stew

Serves 4

guinness stew

Slow cooking does wonders for 2 things:  1. tougher cuts of meat* and 2. slowing YOU down.  December is certainly a merry and jolly month, but hidden in the merriment there can be found the stress of keeping it all together.  You know, the grab-bags, the after-work parties, the planning, the traveling, and, and, and.  We all forget to slow down and breathe until January rolls around and our resolutions are staring us in the face.  I’m convinced there are better ways to end the year…and to start another one.

Tough cuts of meat are also easily forgotten, if not completely ignored.  It takes too much time to turn them into the tender, tasty bites that is their inherent potential.  We’ve also gotten spoiled with more tender cuts.  Filet mignon, anyone?  Rib-eyes, NY Strip Steak…nope, I won’t say no to those, but to ignore eye-rounds, chuck roasts, short ribs, to name a few, would be a BIG mistake.  Good things take time and even in this day and age when everything goes so much faster than even yesterday, it still holds true.  Once in a while you’ve got to stop to smell the roses, or in our case, to stew a classic Guinness stew.

Braising is a combination of cooking techniques.  First, the meat (veggies can also be braised:) is seared on all sides.  It’s then cooked in liquid, about 1/2 way up the meat, usually covered, either stovetop or finished in the oven.  It’s an old school way of cooking and anytime my husband cooks a stew (or other braise) he always talks of a connection he feels to a long line of cooks before him, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all partaking in this careful but loving way to prepare a meal for your family.  It’s wonderful to feel connected and it’s wonderful to get that feeling from cooking, from preparing a meal and then sharing and eating it together.  It’s nourishing on every level.

By the way, the only thing classic about this Guinness Stew is that it’s become a classic in our home.  With these chilly days that have found us, I hope that you find this dish as warming and satisfying as we do.

*Most of you know this already, but just in case:  Whenever I cook or eat animal protein, I do so because it’s sourced from local farms that treat their animals with respect and kindness.  Cows graze on grasses and roam the fields, chickens hang out by the cows eating all kinds of things we’d rather not think about.  Still, it’s their native diet and what’s better for them is better for us.  No antibiotics or growth hormones, no chemicals or funky diets made out of whatever is cheapest and most readily available.  Happy, healthy animals that come from farms where the farmers love what they do…that’s where I get my meat from.  

You’ll need:

1 lb. eye round, cut in 1″ cubes, all fat trimmed and seasoned in sea salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt and pepper)

1 T organic canola oil

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 (largish) yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 T spelt flour

1 T tomato paste (optional)

1 can Guinness

1 C vegetable stock (+ more depending on how things go!)

3-4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice

2 carrots, 1/4″ rondelles (fancy way to say sliced ;))

1/2 C frozen peas

1 T red wine vinegar

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

(Preheat oven to 325°)

1. Heat canola oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le Creuset dutch oven is amazing for this) over high heat and sear meat on all sides till nice and brown.  You may need to do this in batches and it will take 7-10 minutes per batch.  Resist the urge to move the meat around TOO much or too soon.  You’ll know when it’s time to roll them over!

2. Reserve the meat and juices in a bowl and set aside.

3. Add olive oil to pan over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, celery and thyme and a pinch of sea salt.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add tomato paste (if using) and flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes until it becomes like a fragrant paste.  Then add Guinness and stir.  Add 1 C of vegetable stock and let it come to a simmer.

5. Add meat and juices (can’t let all that flavor go to waste) and bay leaves and let it come to a simmer again.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.  (You can either clean up a bit here or go and relax…you deserve it…and you’ll be back!)

6. After an hour has passed, add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour to hour and a half.  Check that the liquid is about 1/2 way up the meat and vegetables.  At this point it should start looking stew-y.

7. Place sauce pan/dutch oven on the stove and remove the bay leaves.  Add the frozen peas and red wine vinegar, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

8. Top with fresh parsley when ready to serve.

9. Enjoy with sourdough bread, over noodles or rice or just on its own!

Grass-fed Burger

makes 4 1/4 lb.  burgers or 6-8 sliders

I used to be vegetarian…for nearly a decade.  I loved my vegetarian diet; it very much became a part of my identity.  It was hard work but I believed I was doing the best for my health and the planet.  It turns out that what’s best for your health changes as you change and change isn’t a bad thing!  (As for the planet, eating grass-fed meat is ideal.)

My journey to consuming animal protein began before culinary school, but being in school, studying food and being surrounded by a wonderful group of supportive people pushed me over the delicious edge.  It was indeed love at first bite…after bite, after bite.  I was surprised to feel more grounded, bolder and much more optimistic after just a few days of careful bites.  I was somehow becoming a new me.  I had been so concerned about the physical effects of eating or not-eating animal protein that I had forgotten about the very real emotional, mental and spiritual effects.  Those were the first changes I noticed.  Slowly my physical health also improved as my system was reaching more balance.

The grass-fed burger is so delicious you really don’t have to do much to it.  And that’s the whole point of great cooking!  Source the highest quality ingredients and let those flavors shine through!  To quote Michael Pollan, “eating a grass-fed burger when you can picture the green pastures in which the animal grazed is a pleasure of another order, not a simple one, to be sure, but one based on knowledge rather than ignorance and gratitude rather than indifference.”  You really can taste the pastures and the sun and the rain.  It is quite sublime and you can’t help but feel a deep connection to the Earth and a deep respect and gratitude for the animals raised for our consumption and the farmers who love and tend to them.

Nutritionally, grass-fed burgers are superior in every sense of the word.  Grass-fed beef is free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, stress, sickness!  It is much higher in Omega 3 fatty-acids (think brain and heart food,) than its grain-fed counterparts.  It is high in Vitamin E and abundant in CLA or conjugated linoleic acid, which may be one of the greatest defenses we have against cancer.  Grass-fed beef is often lean so it is lower in fat and calories and can actually reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

Being an omnivore again is good!

For more information on local and grass-fed meats, please visit www.eatwild.com.

You’ll need:

1 lb. Grass-fed ground beef

1-2 T parsley, rough chop (totally optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

hamburger buns (if you really want to glam it up, brioche rolls are a nice touch;)

Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved

Mesclun greens

To make:

1. Assemble the burgers: Place beef in a bowl and season liberally with sea salt and pepper.  Add chopped parsley if using and assemble into patties 1/4lb thick.  (They’ll shrink a little after cooking.)  Set aside as you heat a cast-iron stovetop  grill…(or a gas grill!)

2. In a small sauté pan, heat oil and caramelize shallots until crispy and golden in color.

3. To cook burgers; this is a tough one since it’s more of an art than a science since there are so many X factors that affect it.  On our stove-top cast iron “grill”, I (or my husband more commonly!) usually cook for about 4-5 minutes on the first side until it looks like the meat is being cooked through.  Flip it over and cook for 3-4 minutes.  This should produce a lovely medium burger.

4. Dress it up!  We added Parmigiano and shallots this time and it was a winning combo.  So much so that it will be repeated in our kitchen!  Add some fresh greens and a pickle on the side.

5. Enjoy!

P.S. By getting your meat from a local farm, not only are you ensuring a million health and planet and animal and farmer benefits, but you’re also guaranteeing that your yummy burger came from 1 cow, not various parts of various cows from Texas, Virginia, Argentina, just to name a few places…oh, and no pink slime either, thank you!